I love how reading books can transport you to anywhere – and I love learning about different points in history through a really great novel. I knew almost nothing about the government in Mexico in the 1970s – and I wouldn’t say I am not “educated” about it, but I did fall into some interesting Wikipedia holes as a result of this book. The premise is that a group called the Hawks (a real paramilitary group in Mexico) have functioned to make a student protest look extremely violent (sort of like planting violent folks at a protest so that you can later point at the violence and say, this group is too dangerous for public safety! – sounds a bit too familiar). One member of the group, codename Elvis, is slightly broody, interested in American music, and trying to better himself. He appreciates what he perceives as the sophisticated nature of his boss, El Mago, and tries to emulate him, striving to earn respect (even from the people he is harassing for information from time to time).
While Elvis strives within the Hawks, Maite longs for something more than her dull secretarial life. As an unmarried woman close to 30, Maite feels absolutely constrained by society (although, in reality, she doesn’t see how she is really quite free!). She lives in a small apartment she has outfitted with books and her beloved records, especially covers of American music. One day, her neighbor (young, beautiful, wealthy, often seen with company) asks her to watch her cat while she goes out of town for the weekend. Maite is happy to do it – for a fee, and for the possibility that roaming around Leonora’s apartment might bring. This agreement ensnares Maite in a scandal – Leonora is a photographer who is known to have taken some photos that would be poltically damaging to important people. Suddenly, everyone is looking for her – and Maite, having had access to her apartment, becomes a part of the search.
It’s a great pulp novel – the tension builds as the search for Leonora continues, Maite meets an interesting cast of characters in the course of her adventure (sort of like the Anna / Hans / Sven love triangle, it’s clear from the outset that Maite’s interest in a certain handsome artist is rather doomed). We learn more about the story from both Maite and Elvis’ perspectives, and when they ultimately cross paths it is satisfying enough.
I didn’t know what this book would be about when I cracked it open – after reading the first few sentences, I read the description and verified that it was, in fact, not a moody, atmospheric gothic text. I like when authors write something completely unexpected, and I Moreno-Garcia is really gifted. This sort of crime novel isn’t always my favorite, but I think this was very well done.